Everyone participates in the process of persuasion, which is the use of words and other symbols to influence people. People use persuasion to gain social power. But the term propaganda is generally used when someone is aiming to reach a large group of people, not just a few.
If you are an activist, you may have created propaganda yourself. People who create propaganda have a specific goal and design a communication message that is intended to circulate among a large group of people and create a reaction. Propaganda involves reinforcing existing beliefs, changing perceptions, activating an emotional response or provoking a behavior.
Today, social media like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter make it easy for ordinary individuals to create or disseminate propaganda. Of course, communication is always oriented to a specific goal or purpose, as people use symbols to build relationships, convey information, entertain, inspire or teach. But the propagandist does not aim to encourage deliberation or reflection. The propagandist does not encourage independent judgement by presenting a variety of viewpoints and allowing the audience to determine which perspective is correct. Instead, the propagandist uses facts and information selectively, transmitting only those ideas that help accomplish the goal.
Propaganda appears in a variety of forms and uses common techniques to successfully influence people, including:
Symbols are powerful. They shape our perception of ourselves, our communities and of possibilities for the future. For thousands of years, people all over the world have understood that control over symbolic expression – storytelling, art, music, news and information – can change the world, for better or for worse.
Like all forms of communication, specific examples of propaganda may be more or less effective. They may be beneficial, benign, or harmful. Perceptions of its impact will vary depending upon people’s individual identities, life experiences, and values. Propaganda can’t be successful without the active participation of audiences. To assess whether a particular example of propaganda is beneficial, benign or harmful, consider these factors:
Propaganda can be found in news and journalism, advertising and public relations, and education – and in all aspects of daily life. It is present in information from government, business, religious and non-profit organizations, and in many forms of entertainment including music, TV shows, movies, videogames and social media like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.